Providence Public Library Announces Acquisition of James N. Arnold Collection

Large historic and genealogical collection has been at the Knight Memorial Library since 1927

The Providence Public Library (PPL) and the Knight Memorial Library of the Providence Community Libraries (PCL) have announced the PPL’s acquisition of the archive and research materials of Rhode Island historian and genealogist James N. Arnold.  The James N. Arnold Collection was formally acquired by PPL in November 2015 and will be processed by archivists this spring; it should be available to researchers by July.  The collection will be part of the Rhode Island Collection at Providence Public Library where it complements existing special collections materials on the history of the state.

“We are very excited to have been able to work with the board and staff at the Providence Community Libraries and Knight Memorial Library to make this valuable historic collection available to area researchers as part of our Rhode Island Collection,” said Jack Martin, PPL Executive Director.

“Providence Community Library is happy to have the Arnold archive reunited and pleased that Providence Public Library will be able to make these materials available and findable to scholars and interested Rhode Islanders,” said Eileen Dyer, PCL Interim Library Director.

The collection includes more than 30 linear feet of materials documenting the genealogical and local history research of James Arnold.  Collection highlights include personal records such as correspondence, diaries, account books, and photographs; field notes and manuscripts, genealogical charts and research, cemetery research; and a collection of anti-Catholic tracts and writings.  The collection also includes unpublished manuscripts related to the Canonchet [Narragansett] Indians and unpublished genealogical notes from Arnold’s cemetery records.

“The Arnold Collection is an outstanding compilation of Rhode Island genealogical material.  We expect these materials will be of great use to the growing number of local genealogists in Rhode Island,” said PPL Rhode Island Collection librarian Kate Wells, who is overseeing the collection’s processing.

James N. Arnold (1844-1927) was a native of Cranston, Rhode Island.  Arnold’s interest in local history and genealogy began early despite his lack of formal education.  A descendant of Thomas Arnold, who joined Roger Williams in 1636 in Providence Plantations, Arnold spent his adult life working to provide accurate records related to Rhode Island history.  In addition to transcribing local church records, pension rolls, burial records and town papers, he recorded and published two important works: The Narragansett Historical Register, an 8 volume set on the history of southern Rhode Island and the Vital Records of Rhode Island, the first comprehensive set of vital records for the state covering 1636-1850 in 21 volumes.  

According to his bequest, upon his death in 1927 Arnold’s collection of historical research, publications, personal papers and personal library was given to the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue in Providence.

The Rhode Island Collection at PPL

The materials in the Rhode Island Collection are by, for and about Rhode Island and its people. The collection consists of more than 16,000 books and pamphlets, an image collection containing more than 8,000 photographs of people, places and buildings, historic and current maps pertaining to Rhode Island cities and towns, newspapers, vertical files, postcards, and reference works. In addition, the collection is a full depository for state documents.